Voice of Reason – February 2018



Piedmont Humanists

Membership: adults $24/year
Seniors/students $15/year

Editor: Joyce Bates

All correspondence to:

Regular mail:
Piedmont Humanists
3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135
Greenville, SC. 29615

February 2018

 The Voice of Sanity


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Sunday meeting: There is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM

Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.
Dates for the Sunday meetings are: February 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th.

ATTENTION: our meeting room at Earth Fare will be closed for remodeling
from until the beginning of June.

Woodruff Industrial Lane runs between the Target and Academy Sports on Woodruff Road. There is a traffic light at the Woodruff intersection. The Ballet School is a little way down the lane on the left.

The Second Saturday Brunch will meet Saturday February 10th at the Golden Corral, 3240 North Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC 29609 Time is 10AM,

The Free-thought trivia and pool group will meet at Friar’s Tavern, We get together from 7:00 to 10:00PM on Thursday February 1st At 1178 Woodruff Road, Greenville, SC 29607


The World Inequality Lab has released its 2018 report on the global state of economic inequality. The report was coordinated by world economists Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman and was collected by one hundred researchers on five continents. Its figures indicate that economic inequality has increased in all regions of the world in the past 35 years

The survey began by comparing the top ten percent share of income to the bottom ninety percent in major economies across the world between 1980 and 2016. These appear in the table below.

Europe US/Canada China Russia India
1980 32% 34% 28% 21% 32%
2016 37% 48% 41% 46% 55%

Russia had a steep rise in inequality after the fall of the Berlin wall. China and India showed a smoother rise reflecting their differing national policies.

The contrast between Europe and the US and Canada shows that their shares of wealth started out about the same in 1980 but by 2016 the difference had markedly increased. Additionally, the ratio of incomes of the top “one percent” to the bottom ninety for these two areas was 10 percent each in 1980, but by 2016 Europe’s was 12 percent and the US and Canada’s had increased to 20 percent.

The authors of the 296 page report took time in their summary to explain another ratio, that of private to public (government) wealth which gives us an idea of a country’s level of inequality. Globally the ratio of private wealth to public wealth was about 3 to 1 in 1970 but rose to 6 to1 by 2016. Public wealth (government assets minus government debt) has declined nearly everywhere. It has become negative in the US and the United Kingdom and barely positive in Japan, Germany, and France. In others words while private wealth has doubled, government wealth has either stagnated or gone negative.

According to the authors of the survey such a situation limits a government’s ability to make economic regulations, redistribute income, and mitigate inequality properly. Also, these governments are kept from providing better public spending because of the large interest payments they are forced to make on their existing debts.

This does not mean the countries have become poor but it is their governments that have become poor. The US is a wealthy country but its government is not. This explains the recent government shutdowns because of lack of funds.

Exceptions to the decline in public wealth globally were oil-rich countries with sovereign wealth funds like Norway. Also, countries like China and Russia despite large shifts in the balance between private and public wealth (because of their shift away from communism) have still maintained relatively high public wealth.

The report also stated that the US’s wealth inequality had been mitigated in the 1930s and 40s because of New Deal policies such as progressive income tax, progressive estate tax, and increased financial regulation. The funds thus acquired paid for modern infrastructure, and in many places financed free higher education among other improvements.

The rise in income in the upper ten percent which began in the 1980s was a combination of higher income and savings at that level as compared to the rest of the population. These savings were in the form of capital which accrues from the passage of time rather than the sale of goods or the delivery of services. They were investments in property, and dividends from stocks and bonds. Declining wealth in the other 90 percent of the US population came from gradual lowering of middleclass savings, increase in mortgages, more use of credit, and greater student debt. It was due to these factors that the bottom 90 percent had a savings rate of negative five percent from 1998 to 2008.

Worldwide, the survey listed six factors that have contributed to diminishing public wealth. They are as follows:

  • 1) Rise in property prices
    2) The aging of population and the consequential decrease in growth. (This is because capital of the aging generation has accrued through time and does not contribute in goods or services.)
    3) Privatization of public assets. (such as the use of public lands for private profit)
    4) Rise in debt (which is held by private owners via banks)
    5) Consistent high returns to the highest financial assets. (such as corporations whose profit grows faster than the average for world economic growth)
    6) Legal systems favorable to private property owners in both real estate and intellectual property.

No government would want to sell its public assets or be willing to suffer years of austerity in order to put itself on a stronger financial footing. These attempts to right the situation would lead to a loss of a government’s ability to provide many of the social advantages modern populations have today.
Equality of opportunity would definitely disappear.

The coordinators of the survey recommend a way out, however, with these suggestions, none of which are simple:

  • 1) A progressive tax would reduce inequality by putting brakes on the top earners ability to capture more wealth through pay raises and capital wealth accumulation.
    2) A global financial register could be organized to deal with tax evasion and money laundering. This would require unprecedented cooperation between governments but could be mutually beneficial.
    3) Governments should continue to not only provide better financial access to education for citizens but access to better jobs for the lower classes as well.
    4) A mechanism should be instituted for labor that would require its higher participation in corporate decision making and periodic boosts in minimum wages.

This survey is full of more detailed information and wonderful graphs. The entire survey is available free for anyone to read on line at:


The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln is an old book with a copyright date of 1940. I found it in the Greenville County library. It was a small innocuous volume without a fancy cover and with well-worn, yellowed pages. The text of a speech that Lincoln gave in Peoria, Illinois in 1854 was included in the book and it revealed Lincoln’s moral position on slavery.

Initially, the most striking thing about the speech was its length. It was 47 pages long, took Lincoln three hours to deliver, and was intended as a rebuttal against his adversary Stephen Douglas who then represented Illinois in the Senate. One wonders what the speech could have contained to warrant such length especially since Lincoln had retired from his duties as a member of the House of Representatives and had intended to pursue private practice as a lawyer.

Lincoln first took time to review the political fight over slavery that had extended from the founding of the nation until the passage of the KansasNebraska Act in 1854.This Act allowed the territories forming what is now the western continental US the option to choose for or against slavery upon statehood.

Lincoln carefully detailed side issues that over all those years increased animosity between North and South. Then he turned to the human and moral question and explained how slavery would spread into those territories and make it impossible for them to be admitted as Free states:

Here is a quote from the speech:

“A white man takes his slave to Nebraska now. Who will inform the Negro that he is free? Who will take him before court to test the question of his freedom? In ignorance of his legal emancipation he is kept chopping, splitting, and plowing. Others are brought, and move on in the same track. At last, if ever the time for voting comes on the question of slavery the institution already, in fact, exists in the country, and cannot be well removed.”

Lincoln continued in this vein by describing the Southern idea of equal justice when it came to the slave as property. He put it thus: “If a Southerner did not object to a Northerner taking his hogs into a new territory then a Northerner should not object to a Southerner taking his slaves into a new territory.” He admitted that the application of the idea was logical but wondered why the South had agreed with the North almost unanimously when the African slave trade was declared piracy and punishable by death in 1820.

Next, Lincoln pointed out the political advantage of treating five slaves as equal to three whites or one slave .6 the value of a white person. Slaves did not vote, but were counted when it came time to determine the number of delegates to the House of Representatives. Lincoln noted that the states of Maine and South Carolina were awarded six each according to their populations, but when white populations only were counted South Carolina had one half the population of Maine. This was because during the census South Carolina counted its nearly 400,000 slaves making it politically equal in representatives to Maine.

Last, Lincoln quoted part of the Declaration of Independence that defined self-government as instituted among men “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. He insisted that the relationship between master and slave did not apply here because there was no consent from the slave on how he should be governed.

However, Lincoln would not go far enough to declare political equality between the two races. It becomes clear that he was against the expansion of slavery but not its extinction. Further reading reveals that he could not refuse to acknowledge that the institution was embraced when the Union was formed, but in all conscience he could not deny the black man his humanity. This was this moral quandary that confined him to fighting the spread of slavery while vainly attempting to keep the Union intact.

This final quote is prescient of his “house divided against itself” speech at the Republican convention in 1858: “Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a ‘sacred right of self-government’. These principles cannot stand together.”

We would do well to remember Lincoln’s words because slavery isn’t the only institution that can threaten self-government.

The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Philip Van Doren Stern, 1940, The Modern Library, pgs. 338-385
Lincoln, a life of purpose and power, Richard Carwardine, 2006, Random House
The Great Uncompromiser, Matthew Karp, The Nation, November 13, 2017, pg 13
Joke corner (Science):
Two theoretical physicists are lost at the top of a mountain. Theoretical physicist No 1 pulls out a map and peruses it for a while. Then he turns to theoretical physicist No 2 and says: “Hey, I’ve figured it out. I know where we are.”
“Where are we then?”
“Do you see that mountain over there?”
“Well… THAT’S where we are.”

A friend who’s in liquor production,
Has a still of astounding construction,
The alcohol boils,
Through old magnet coils,
He says that it’s proof by induction.

A blowfly goes into a bar and asks: “Is that stool taken?”

They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes.

Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the other… Hang on…

A statistician is someone who tells you, when you’ve got your head in the fridge and your feet in the oven that you’re – on average – very comfortable.

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